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The great big halal debate

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HEATED: Philip Hollobone MP led the debate on religious slaughter in Westminster Hall where speakers from across the political spectrum gave their views

HEATED: Philip Hollobone MP led the debate on religious slaughter in Westminster Hall where speakers from across the political spectrum gave their views

MP argues that there was antisemitism and Islamophobia "lurking" behind some arguments against religious slaughter without stunning the animal

“Religious minorities rightly feel picked on and scrutinised, as if to say their way of life was cruel. It’s an unfair characterisation” Labour MP Shabana Mahmood

"The government have no plans at all to ban religious slaughter. The Prime Minister has been absolutely clear that there is no intention to ban religious slaughter.” George Eustice, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Farming and Food

The latest parliamentary discussion on the future of the stunning of all animals, before religious slaughter, led to a heated three-hour debate in Westminster Hall last week.

Calls to legislate the practice have seen MPs put forward robust defences of kosher and halal religious slaughtering methods, sparking a debate in which more than a dozen speakers from across the political spectrum gave their views.

Halal Meat (338x450)The debate on Monday 23rd February was called after a British Veterinary Association-backed petition calling for a ban on non-stun slaughter generated 100,000 signatures in nine months. However, politicians highlighted a similar petition, in favour of continuing religious slaughter, which has attracted more than 123,000 signatures in a week.

Ahead of the session, campaign group Shechita UK had said the British Veterinary Association was ‘negligent, obsessed and politically driven’ in its arguments against religious slaughter.

Labour MP Shabana Mahmood said there had been a degree of hysteria around the issue.
“Religious minorities rightly feel picked on and scrutinised, as if to say their way of life was cruel. It’s an unfair characterisation,” she said.

Currently 80 per cent of animals killed in halal slaughters are pre-stunned.
Conservative MP Philip Hollobone, opening the debate, said he believed there was an ‘overwhelming number of people who want to see non-stun slaughter ended in this country’.

Campaigners’ concerns related to animal welfare, he said, and were not prompted by opposition to religious beliefs. But he admitted it was impossible to discuss the issue without considering the religious perspective as well.

Mr Hollobone called for clearer labelling to show how animals had been killed, with a better indication given to consumers of whether the animal had been stunned or not, and whether the food was kosher or halal.

But Conservative MP for South East Cambridgeshire - Sir James Paice said it would be seen as ‘racist’ if labels differentiated between meat items produced as a result of religious slaughter and those that were not.

Sir James Paice, added that his visit to a halal abattoir had convinced him that post-cut stunning – when an animal was rendered senseless after being shot with a bolt through the head immediately after having its throat cut – could have a ‘significant’ impact on religious slaughter. It would be a compromise that may suit most parties in the process, he said.

Mike Freer, Finchley and Golders Green MP, said he believed the public was ‘completely divided’ on the topic, and that there was antisemitism and Islamophobia ‘lurking’ behind some arguments against religious slaughter.

MPs voted only on whether they agreed that the issue had been debated, rather than on whether they were in favour of religious slaughter or not.

George Eustice, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for farming and food, repeated the government's preference for pre-stunning.

He added: “The government have no plans at all to ban religious slaughter. The Prime Minister has been absolutely clear that there is no intention to ban religious slaughter. However, everyone agrees that we need good enforcement of our existing legislation.”

Mr Eustice said the government would begin a series of unannounced, random inspections of British slaughterhouses.

Dr Shuja Shafi, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, said: “The British Veterinary Association (BVA) should stop fanning the hysteria around religious slaughter and ‘get real’ on the true priority of animal welfare.

“If the BVA are genuinely concerned about animal welfare, we need to hear what they are doing about the duty of veterinarians to ensure the welfare of animals in the slaughterhouses, at all times, given the abuses reported.”

Maulana Yunus Dughala on behalf of the Halal Monitoring Committee UK says: “How many members of the public, or indeed, Members of Parliament are actually aware of the greater abuse and longer-term suffering of animals before they reach the slaughterhouse? How many have bothered to find out about the abuses that are occurring in non-religious slaughterhouses, including those labelled as organic?

“The UK’s largest animal rights group, Animal Aid, which has secretly filmed inside eleven UK abattoirs since 2009, has found ten of these breaking the law. How many of the investigated abattoirs were for non-stunned halal meat? Only one - the other nine abuses Animal Aid recorded were at slaughterhouses for non-halal slaughter.”

Maulana Yunus Dughala says the matter is less about stunning and non-stunning, halal, kosher or non-religious, but about having good robust standards in place with regulations of those standards.

“It is about providing the resources for the MHS (Meat Hygiene Service) to have enough staff that can monitor and observe the welfare of animals across all slaughterhouses. It is about introducing CCTV cameras in abattoirs as an extra assurance for animal welfare,” she said.

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Halal and Kosher explained

Muslims require food to be 'halal' and Jews 'shechita'. Both involve methods of slaughter that mean the animal has to be conscious before it is killed, that is not stunned first, which is the usual method in British slaughterhouses.

These are two religions which place great value on observing dietary laws and is part of what identifies a Muslim as a Muslim or a Jew as a Jew, not just to outsiders but to themselves. Muslims believe the rules of slaughtering animals derive from the Qu'ran; Jews from book of Deuteronomy.

The name for the halal method of slaughter is 'dhabiha' and one of the certifying bodies for halal food - the Halal Food Authority, does allow electrical stunning for sheep and poultry as long as the animal doesn't die. Animals are killed with a swift incision to the throat from a razor sharp blade. The animal must never see another animal being slaughtered nor must it ever see the blade being sharpened. They must be checked before slaughter to ensure they are healthy and given clean water to drink. Then they are turned to face Mecca, the prayer is recited, the jugular vein and carotid arteries are cut – leaving the spinal cord intact – and the blood drained from the carcass.

Shechita requires the animal has to be conscious and is carried out by a shoket – which involves a super-sharp blade called a chalaf being used to sever the throat. The blood is then drained.

Campaigners against religious slaughter argue that stunning the animal first is kinder. Different methods are used: gas stunning, which slowly renders the creature unconscious (birds and pigs are actually killed like this too); percussive stunning, used for cattle and sheep, in which a captive bolt is used to render it unconscious before it's hoisted into the air by one leg and stuck by the slaughterman; and electrical stunning, which involves passing a current through the brain. For sheep, this means shocking them with tongs on their heads; for birds, it involves hanging them by the feet and dipping them in an electrified water bath before the belt moves them on to a mechanical neck-cutter.

Calls to end non-stun slaughter

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British Veterinary Association presents findings at Parliamentary debate which could effect the halal meat industry

The debate around the halal slaughter of animals was heard in the halls of Westminster earlier this week, with the topic of ‘stunning’ at the heart of conversation.

According to a 2012 Food Standards Agency report, 97 per cent of cattle, 96 per cent of poultry and 90 per cent of sheep slaughtered using the halal method in UK abattoirs are stunned. But some Muslims insist stunning ‘is not halal’ and animals must be slaughtered without this initial step.

The calls upon the British Government to end non-stun slaughter are spearheaded by the British Veterinary Association (BVA) and supported by the RSPCA.

The BVA says it launched the Parliamentary e-petition because of ‘scientific evidence’ which shows that slaughter without pre-stunning allows animals to feel pain and compromises animal welfare.

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The BVA’s claims are based upon a scientific study which includes the findings of the EU-funded Dialrel project that ran for four years between 2006 and 2010. The project concluded: “It can be stated with high probability that animals feel pain during and after the throat cut without prior stunning.”

The total number of signatures on BVA’s e-petition has now reached more than 115,000, showing a significant strength of feeling amongst the public. It is a position supported by the Humane Slaughter Association, the Farm Animal Welfare Council, and the Federation of Veterinarians of Europe.

The BVA says its concern does not relate to religious belief but to the animal welfare compromise of non-stun slaughter.

President of the association, John Blackwell, has said that the BVA has long argued that all animals should be stunned before slaughter to render them insensible to pain and that the signatures on the e-petition clearly shows the strength of feeling about animal welfare at slaughter.

LEADING THE DEBATE: John Blackwell President of the British Veterinary Association says he is keen to continue discussions with representatives of the halal and kosher meat industry

LEADING THE DEBATE: John Blackwell President of the British Veterinary Association says he is keen to continue discussions with representatives of the halal and kosher meat industry

Mr Blackwell said: “For BVA and our members, this is a matter of animal welfare at slaughter, plain and simple. We have never – nor would we – argue against religious slaughter. We categorically refute any suggestion that this is an anti-Muslim or anti-Jewish campaign.

“We have met with, and are keen to continue our positive discussions with, representatives of the halal and kosher meat industry to explore where we can work together to improve animal welfare at slaughter.

“BVA finds abuse of animals in any slaughterhouses unacceptable. We would expect for these abuses to be thoroughly investigated and appropriate action taken by the competent authority.”

The BVA points out that recent undercover films of animal abuse in slaughterhouses would warrant sanctions under current welfare legislation, irrespective of whether they occurred in an abattoir implementing stunning or non-stun prior to slaughter.

“From pre-birth to slaughter, vets play an active role in not only preventing suffering but actively providing for the welfare needs of all animals. The veterinary profession is not complacent,” continues Mr Blackwell.

“We consistently lobby Government to ensure existing legislation is enforced effectively. We have and will always work to improve the welfare of animals at all stages of their lifecycle.

“BVA is calling on the Government to have a consistent approach to animal welfare legislation.
“How can the Government on the one hand pride itself and champion the UK on having some of the world’s highest animal welfare standards, but on the other undermine this by allowing slaughter without stunning to continue?

“It is clear from the scientific evidence that the welfare of animals is improved by effective stunning at slaughter but we can’t enforce a piece of legislation that does not exist. This is why we call on the Government to make legislative change now and end non stun-slaughter immediately.”

David Bowles, head of RSPCA public affairs, said: “It is no surprise that around eight in 10 people want an end to non-stun slaughter.

“There is growing public concern about the welfare of farm animals and people believe animals should be treated as humanely as possible throughout their lives, including at the time of slaughter.

“It is important to differentiate between ‘religious’ and ‘non-stun’ slaughter. Our concern does not relate to the expression of religious belief but to the practice of killing by throat cutting without pre-stunning. In fact, around 84 per cent of halal in the UK is pre-stunned demonstrating that animal welfare and religious purpose can work together,” he added.

Unstunned meat ‘should be labelled’

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halal-meat-on-shelves

Meat sold in British shops should be labelled to say whether the animal it came from was stunned at slaughter as many killed in accordance with religious rites are not, an MP has said last week.

Conservtive party’s Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) also asked the Government to look at ways to persuade Jewish and Muslim communities to stun more animals at slaughter.

Mr Parish highlighted a report by the all-party parliamentary group for beef and lamb that he chairs, which called for research and demonstrations that showed animals can be stunned and their slaughter remain compliant with religious beliefs.

For both halal and kosher meat, animals are killed by cutting their throats, often without pre-stunning them.

PERSUADING: MP Neil Marsh is urging Muslim and Jewish communities to stun more animals.

PERSUADING: MP Neil Marsh is urging Muslim and Jewish communities to stun more animals.

Speaking before his Westminster Hall debate on the subject, Mr Parish said: "The whole crux of it is to bring about more animals to be stunned at slaughter and we are really trying to seek from the Jewish and Muslim communities ways in which we can stun more animals at slaughter.

"In particular for large animals, and also whether animals can be stunned before slaughter or just after the cut.

"I would also like just a clear label saying this meat has been stunned at slaughter or not stunned at slaughter."

A survey showed the vast majority of British vets believe consumers need to be better informed about animal welfare and slaughter methods.

According to the British Veterinary Association (BVA), 94% of vets believe UK consumers of meat and fish should be better informed about slaughter methods. Just 11% of vets believe the public understands the difference between stunned and non-stunned slaughter.